STRENGTH AND COORDINATION ARE TWO AREAS OF physical development that seem almost to take care of themselves, which may be why they are often overlooked when curriculum planning is under way in many early childhood settings. After all, children are going to get stronger as they grow older (true); they will also become more coordinated as they grow older (also true). Unfortunately, if left to chance, children may not reach their full potential in both of these critical areas of physical development. Short of weight lifting and coordination drills, what can we do to develop children's abilities? Plenty!

Defining Strength and Coordination

Young children need overall strength so that they can participate in a wide variety of activities, derive pleasure from those activities, gain confidence in their abilities to do things, and have the strength to do things-particularly new things.

Coordination is another ability that begins developing on its own, as infants begin to explore their bodies and their world. By coordination, we mean a series of movements, organized and timed to occur in a particular way, that bring about a particular result.

When we start thinking about and planning for strength and coordination in young children we have to realize that, like all developmental issues, there are going to be individual differences and, in general, development is going to happen at its own rate. You cannot make development happen; you can only support it by creating the right environment for each child as he reaches a particular point on the developmental continuum.

Preschoolers: Follow the Leader

Check out your preschool playground equipment and make sure that there are other sorts of climbing activities besides playing on steps and slides. You can add tires of different sizes, placed in various patterns on the ground for "follow-the-leader" fun. Hang climbing ropes from sturdy tree limbs or swing-set frames to encourage upper-body development through climbing. (Make sure you monitor this activity closely and take the ropes down when playtime is over.) You can also tape a sand pail to each end of a 36-inch wooden dowel and have children carry different amounts of sand, water, or rocks from one place to another.

Kindergartners: Increase the Challenge

Ladders and slides aren't challenging enough for children in this age group. To add strength and coordination development opportunities, tie a one inch natural fiber rope horizontally between two trees, about 54 inches above the ground. Let children monkey-swing on it, or ask them to try to travel hand-over-hand as far as they can along the rope. (Again, monitor this activity closely and take the rope down when playtime is over.) The next time you purchase riding toys for your wheeled-vehicle path, look for those that are hand-powered, not foot-powered.

Whatever you do, don't let the children be limited by equipment. Be creative as you look for ways for children to lift things or themselves-you may be surprised at what you'll find!